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I Hate Having to Go Gluten-Free for the Holidays

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With my autoimmune disease diagnosis last month, I’ve been steadfast in trying to help myself feel better now that I definitely know what’s wrong. While my doctor doesn’t feel medication is a viable option at this point, I’ve been searching other avenues to try and find some relief for the symptoms that have been plaguing me for the better part of a year now. Through different consultations with a nutritionist, a chiropractor, an integrative doctor, and through reading and hearing personal accounts from people who have helped overcome their symptoms, all unanimously confirm that I’ve got to ditch gluten. Gluten, that little bit of protein composite found in wheat and related grains, is really what allows dough to do what it does so beautifully. Gluten helps bread to rise and is what gives it that elasticity, chewiness, and texture that we all love about all things bread-related. Love a warm, crunchy, soft-in-the-middle baguette or pretzel? You’ve got gluten to thank for that.

Gluten, however, is what seems to ail many people who suffer from a variety of autoimmune conditions and can often cause flare-ups. There’s a whole list of foods, in fact, that are believed to trigger symptoms and flare-ups in autoimmune patients, prompting many to ditch traditional American diets and go towards a more Paleo type of diet. But before I get ahead of myself, I was told to at least start with gluten, since that seems to be enemy agent no. 1 for those of us with thyroid diseases like Hashimoto’s, where the immune system is attacking our own thyroid gland. Because the gluten molecular structure so closely resembles that of the thyroid, the body will rise up to not only attack the gluten molecule but also increase attack on the thyroid, further damaging it. By going gluten-free, I’m hoping to essentially calm down or at least not aggravate the autoimmune response to attack my thyroid gland. And apparently, there’s no cheating, no 80/20 balance, which means I have to be willing to say goodbye to gluten completely if I hope to have a positive effect.

All this to say, I’m not doing this just to follow some gluten-free diet fad nor am I doing it to try and lose a few pounds. I’m trying to help my body heal itself or at least do no more harm.

While I’m firmly committed to doing the best I can and I completely realize that this isn’t the biggest problem in the world to contend with, I’d also just like to point out that this is pretty much the worst time of year to try a whole new way of eating. Even though we’ve been eating clean for well over a year now, I never really ditched gluten for more than a brief 21-day detox program. Rather than following fads over the past year, we’ve been dedicated to just eating whole, real foods. So while healthy eating isn’t new to me, gluten-free eating certainly is, and so far, not so good. It sucks in fact.

Had I started this new protocol in the summer, perhaps, when we’re focused on light-fare and some tortilla chips can appropriately cure a craving, I may be doing alright. But right now, all I seem to see and smell around me are the colors and flavors of the season, and they all seem to revolve around gluten! Pumpkin pies, biscuits, muffins, cookies, stuffing — the hallmark of Thanksgiving dinner for Pete’s sake — all gone, in the blink of an eye.

Of course there are lots of restaurants and stores which now offer gluten-free alternatives to many beloved favorites, but let’s be honest: They’re either really terrible tasting or if they aren’t so terrible, they cost a fortune.

There’s plenty of resources for gluten-free cooks, from blogs to books, which offer tons of yummy sounding recipes. However, after trying several, I’ve come to realize I do not have the gluten-free baking gene. I’m pretty terrible at it, in fact, and I think I’ll just save my dignity in the kitchen and avoid it for now.

I’m dedicated to not giving up, though, so while I may temporarily admit defeat in the kitchen and shell out money for an occasional treat here and there …

I’m going to tackle gluten-free living with a little more grace and a little less whining by focusing on the following:

1. Foods which are already naturally gluten-free

… and there are PLENTY of them! Produce and animal products from fish to chicken to red meat and pork. Yogurt, grains, and starches like quinoa and rice and sweet potatoes. The list goes on and on, but bottom line, there are a lot more naturally gluten-free foods than there are foods which contain gluten.

2. Keeping my eye on the prize and focusing on gains I hope to achieve

Testimonies of those who have gone gluten-free to help with their thyroid disease symptoms offer up lots of reason to be hopeful and to focus on the positives I’ll gain instead of what I’m losing. More energy, less body aches, even better sleep are all positive outcomes of those who have successfully ditched gluten. Of course it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s at least worth a shot.

3. It’s an opportunity to learn something new

Sure, I may suck at gluten-free baking right now, but this new health concern just gives me added incentive to keep trying to get better at gluten-free baking and cooking. I have several friends who are either allergic or have children that are allergic and already know how to cook gluten-free — and cook well. So not only may I possibly learn something new, I may also build community by begging for some cooking lessons on occasion.

4. As with giving up just about anything, it’s hard at first, but our cravings and urges usually go away after time, and so I’ve heard the same about gluten

Eventually, as this becomes a more regular part of life, I’m sure I’ll fixate on all things bread-related less and less, and eventually I may lose my cravings for pizza and pretzels and donuts altogether. Okay, that may be a little bit of crazy talk, but hopefully at least my cravings may calm down eventually.

There’s so much to be thankful for, especially this time of year, that I know giving up gluten is hardly a sacrifice. It may be inconvenient to make separate stuffing for just myself, and my temptation meter will most likely run on high through January, but I need to focus on how good it is to have a diagnosis and a plan of action on how to hopefully help myself feel better. I consider myself pretty lucky at this point, even though I may not have a piece of my mom’s famous pumpkin pie in hand on Thanksgiving day.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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